Safety In Numbers: Why You Should Get A Study Group

By Timothy Hayes on February 24, 2015
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There’s some guy rocking back and forth in a squeaky chair, a couple of girls giggling over some Snapchat they just sent, and the librarians are chatting about some new publication. Why won’t anyone be quiet?

This is a library. People are awful. They make studying awful. Well don’t give up on people just yet. Just because the library’s too loud doesn’t mean you should study away from people. In fact, you should study with people. That’s right, I’m talking about a study group.

For the introverts and Netflix hermits reading this, the very idea of a study group can bring on a panic attack, but don’t run away just yet. Study groups are very helpful, actually.

Bear with me, introverts. (image by Schroeder Veidt)

Anyone who has taken an intro course to a science can tell you that despite whatever the professor or TA might say, it is a weed-out course. They separate the boys from the men and the girls from the women. The weak are cut from the strong and the wise drop before the deadline.

However, for the unfortunate few stuck in the course, there is a serious pass-or-fail mentality. Anything short of cheating goes. These courses are ideal for group studying.

Called cooperative learning, group work has been shown since the ’80s to improve cognitive recall in students internationally.

This effect of social learning plays on deeply rooted social regions of the human brain. Few animals have as complicated of brains as humans and correspondingly, few have as complicated of societies as ours.

We are hardwired to be social. It is why we have a sense of loneliness when we have a prolonged period of little or no intimate social interaction. So cooping yourself up in the top floor of the library in the darkest corner you can find is not an ideal situation for your brain socially.

Scholastically, this prolonged isolation is even worse for you. While our brains are more advanced than any on the planet and hundreds of times more sophisticated than the best computers we have, they are limited. It is in our very nature that we cannot know everything.

You don’t have to worry about ever losing space in your brain since the best estimate of our storage is 2.5 million petabytes. You do have to worry about lost memories or memories not encoded to long term memory. If you’ve ever heard something, forgotten it, and heard it again, you might have that “ghost of a memory” feeling. That’s because your brain never encoded that information in long-term memory, but the pathways have been fired before. Somebody else, however, did because they prompted that ghost memory.

The bottom line is that you can’t remember everything. Nobody can. However, you and several other people might be able to collectively get all the information you need. Consequently, it should follow that you get more out of studying with a group of peers. They have the information and ways to relate it to your age range. By having an insightful knowledge of both the subject matter and the person it is delivered to, students can teach each other better than professors ever could.

When choosing your group, choose friends, or people you are at least amiable with because you will be spending a good amount of time with them. One piece of advice I was given before class was to make two friends in every class so that if two of you get sick, all three of you can get the notes.

Image from http://blog.tigerbookstore.com

To further this, if three of you take notes and each take different notes, then you are going to be able to get three different sets of information on the same course. In study groups, you can combine this information and get the maximum amount of info for the exam.

Another argument to study with your friends is better memory recall. Research and practices at the University of Cambridge have shown that good memories fade slower than bad memories. Who likes dwelling on the all-nighter you pulled last week? You’d rather get some sleep, play some video games, and pass your test.

Similarly, studying with friends is fun. If you can laugh about the Golgi apparatus and have some ludicrous inside joke about it, aren’t you going to be able to recall that its function is to produce lysosomes?

Now to be fair, group study is not for everyone. Some people would prefer to study quietly in their dorm room or plug their headphones in and sit in a quiet corner somewhere. I would definitely recommend this for paper writing and research as these are personalized tasks that require you to work at your own pace.

Your study group may also just be a bad group to study with. They might not take good notes or any at all. They might be confrontational and not open to discussion of contentious course material. It’s fine to leave a study group if you’re not getting anything from it. Just don’t give up on the idea forever.

I personally have used a study group to great effect. My university’s Intro to Chemistry course is infamous. I powered through my first exam just fine by myself, but by the time the second came around, I was just overwhelmed with info.

Image from becuo.com

On the third exam, I worked with two of my friends and our scores improved markedly. We worked by explaining what we didn’t understand to each other and when we were wrong, explaining why we were wrong. Having two other brains to pick lets you really get at tough material.

Getting information is important, but understanding it is paramount to success. Working with your friends can help you learn material you’re struggling with and gain perspectives you never imagined. So maybe it’s not so much about what you know as it is about who you know.

This is a continuation of my series on studying and note taking. For more tips and tricks to help you learn better, check out the list below.

How to Survive a Literature Class

Video Games: Please Enjoy Responsibly

The Science of Retention

Write Notes, Not Textbooks: a Guide to Better Note Taking

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By Timothy Hayes

Uloop Writer
I'm a Sophomore at The Ohio State University. My major is Journalism. I used to hate writing until a very passionate 6th grade teacher showed me how fun it could be. Since then, I've expanded my skills and portfolio to encompass short stories, poetry, articles, speeches, movies scripts and play scripts.

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